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San Diego’s Community Colleges Could Soon Offer Bachelor’s Degrees

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The growing demand for a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing, called a BSN, is outweighing San Diego County’s capacity to provide them.

"Let me listen to your heart really quick, OK?" said Amanda Griffin to "Mary," a computerized medical mannequin that can breathe, blink and emit fluids and vital signs.

Griffin is in her final semester of nursing at Grossmont Community College in San Diego’s East County. She’ll graduate with a two-year associate's degree in June, but her education won’t stop there.

"I want to get my bachelor’s to be able to get a job," said Griffin.

A two-year degree was previously sufficient for employment. Now, a bachelor’s is required to work at most major hospitals as they strive for the prestigious magnet designation of nursing excellence.

"There’s a good amount of us that work in the hospitals already as nursing assistants, CNAs, techs," explained Griffin, "but then our managers are telling us, 'We’ve got to have that bachelor’s to get on floors we’ve worked on for years.'"

The growing demand for a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing, called a BSN, is outweighing San Diego County’s capacity to provide them.

"When you look at Grossmont College, Southwestern College, San Diego City College — those are the schools in this area that feed right into San Diego State University," said Debbie Yaddow, dean of Allied Health and Nursing at Grossmont. "That’s over 300 graduates every June, and they really have slots for about 80 students."

Yaddow said it’s time for community colleges to expand their educational mission and begin offering a bachelor’s degree.

"Then more of our graduates could be employable in San Diego, which is a very, very big thing," she said.

The idea is making its way through the state Legislature as Senate Bill 850, authored by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego. The measure would create an eight-year pilot program allowing the state’s 112 community colleges to offer an applied baccalaureate degree in a highly specialized field, such as nursing. The measure cites Public Policy Institute of California indicating the state will need 1 million additional bachelor’s degrees by 2025 to meet the growing demand for skilled workers.

Community colleges in 22 other states currently offer a baccalaureate program, the only avenue to graduate more nurses and help prevent the coming nursing shortage, Yaddow said.

"With the Affordable Care Act in California, there’s going to be 8 million Americans just in California that need health care," said Yaddow. "And then you look at the baby boomers, you look at all of us that are getting toward the age of retirement and the health care needs that’s going to put on the health care system."

"There is going to be a massive shortage of nurses in the future," Yaddow warned.

Bethany Santos is completing Grossmont’s two-year nursing program in June. After graduating, she plans to get her bachelor’s through an online program. But given the choice, she said she’d love to stay and get her BSN.

"Yeah, I would definitely go for that," said Santos. "For me, the biggest thing is cost. I couldn’t afford to go onto a BSN program and not be working."

Tuition for a baccalaureate program at Grossmont Community College would cost more than the current $46 a unit but likely less than the $3,400 per semester cost of San Diego State University, Yaddow said.

Nursing student Jami Smart said he would take advantage of the program for the convenience.

"It’s more accessible, a lot more students find it easier to go to community college, and it’s more personable," said Smart.

Those opposed to the bill say it would cause competition and duplication within the state’s college segments. California’s Master Plan for Higher Education defines the roles of community colleges and limits the level of degrees to be awarded by each system: associate's degree for community colleges, master's for California State University and doctoral for the University of California. However, exceptions have been made and the plan is under review.

The proposal faces likely opposition from CSU, though a spokesman for the system said it has not taken a position on the proposal yet.

Yaddow hopes the bill will pass. She said Grossmont Community College is capable right now of implementing a baccalaureate program.

"The curriculum is written, it’s based on the essentials for baccalaureate education, which is important," said Yaddow. "It has the same rigor and strength that any Bachelor's program will have."

Grossmont would start their baccalaureate program small, accepting just 40 students twice per year to ensure they do it right, Yaddow explained.

"I do believe that our graduates would be more than ready to be accepted right into the fold into the hospital," said Yaddow.

"If it’s a bachelor’s degree in nursing and it’s accredited, then certainly," said Ana-Maria Gallo, director of nursing education, research and professional development for Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

During the hiring process, BSN students from community college would be weighted equally to BSN university graduates, Gallo said.

"A degree from the community college at that level, as long as the requirements are the same, a BSN is what we try to aspire for."

Back at Grossmont Community College, Amanda Griffin aspires to be an excellent nurse.

"I love the patient interaction," said Griffin. "It’s all about working with people, being at the bedside, doing the best that I can to help them in their hardest situations."

Block’s bill is scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday.

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